26 December 2016

Yiddish for Pirates - Gary Barwin

I picked up this book after seeing some good reviews of it; plus it was one of the Giller shortlisted books this year, and I was looking forward to reading it.  I came away from it with mixed feelings.

I loved the language.  The author plays with words and language in a way that was a delight for a language nerd like me to read.  Some examples:

On the destruction of books during the Inquisition:  "'Libricide, lexicution, biblioclasm.  To save our Catholic Spain,' he'd said, 'we must first destroy heresy.'" (p. 87)

On Hebrew vowels:  "You know they exist, they're just not there.  Like God to the troubled faithful." (p. 145)

On speaking Yiddish on a pirate ship:  "The perfect language for pirates, its words raggletag plundered and refitted from other times and tongues.  As the Pirate Bey says, 'Words belong to those who use them only till someone else steals them.'" (p. 247)

On a life of piracy:  "I wish that we, too, could leave this meiskeit-ugly bloodletting.  That we, too, could silently row out of this story and find another one, a story where more blood stayed in the body." (p. 303)

I also enjoyed the story - at least for most of the book.  Moishe is a Jewish boy who runs away from home in the late 1400s, during one of the periods of history with intense persecution of Jewish people.  It is the story of his persecution and how he continually escapes it.  The trick or catch in the story is that it is narrated by his parrot, an African Grey.

Unfortunately, both the continual language play and the plot grew tired before the end of the book.  Once Moishe ends up as a pirate in the Caribbean (he sails from Spain with Columbus), I lost track of what boat he was on, and with whom.  I confess that I was skimming the last 50 pages or so, just wanting to get to the conclusion to find out what would happen (not quite what I was predicting, but still a satisfactory conclusion).

(This was book 9/13 for me in the Canadian Book Challenge hosted by the Book Mine Set)

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